Redeemed: vision forum contest results

March 5th, 2012 (four days after the original announcement date) the winning stories for the 2012 Short Story Contest were chosen.

Unfortunately, mine was not among them.  Fortunately, that means I can now post the whole story on my blog without fear of disqualification.

(you can read the winning entries here.)

So, without further ado, here is Redeemed: a short story.  A story which I can now claim as entirely mine, without any affiliation with Vision Forum. Which, I suppose, can be one comfort amidst the tears of not winning $1,000.

A sharp scream split the frozen mist.
I tore my eyes away from the malicious waves battering my ship, and whirled toward the deck. My heart skipped.
     “Murdoch!” I called, sprinting from the bridge. The men in the wheelhouse jumped as I flung the door open.
“Captain!” All three of them stood.
I strode toward my First Officer. “Murdoch, what’s going on?”
He stammered, “W-what do you mean?”
“On deck! Didn’t you hear the passengers yelling?”
His mustache twitched. Of course he had.
“So why aren’t you doing anything?”
“I left men in charge…” he blurted.
“I put YOU in charge! Do you see what’s happening out there?”
All three men turned and stared out the window. Murdoch looked up reluctantly.
The deck teemed like a disturbed anthill, erupting with a mob of Third Class Passengers, feverishly rushing to escape the sinking ship. Pale-faced men sprinted back and forth, or else bickered with each other, hollering curses. Women and children huddled like frightened sheep, herded toward the lifeboats by the deckhands.
And only one lifeboat remained.
“Do you see the problem now, Murdoch?”
He looked down.
A woman’s cry split the air again, shrieking from the lifeboat which had just been released. Then another, younger cry joined hers.
Somehow, the cry of the little girl leaning over the ship-rail echoed louder than the men’s bickering. My heart skipped again. A tiny blonde head flashed against the black waves, a tiny pale hand grasped desperately for the other nineteen lifeboats now drifting away.
I tore my eyes away and stepped toward Murdoch.
“Were all the lifeboats full?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, Captain. I was following your orders. Women and children first.”
I clenched my jaw. “And were the lifeboats full of women and children, Murdoch?”
He was silent.
I turned and left the wheelhouse.
Down the stairs at full-speed, I rushed into the teeming anthill, elbowing my way past the bickering men; as if by saving the little blonde girl I could make everything right.
Sarah’s face kept flashing before my eyes. Oh, how I missed her. Oh, how I had wronged her…
But if I could only save this girl…
     Her little body looked so lost against the backdrop of the treacherous sea. She cowered under her heavy coat, clutching a doll like a lifeline in one arm, stretching the other arm as far as she could over the ship-rail. But she was silent now.
She had given up calling. Her mother was already drifting away.
     I ignored the chaos around us, strode across the deck, and tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped, almost dropping her doll in shock.
     I knelt down next to her. She just looked at me with solemn eyes.
“Is your mother out there?” I gestured to the water.
She evaluated me, then nodded.
“I can help you.”
Biting her lip, she nodded again.
I grinned and stood.
And then I realized that the chaos around us was the loading of the last lifeboat.
Passengers surged toward us like a stampede of terrified cattle. The deckhands passed out lifejackets frantically, shouting at the top of their lungs, “Women and children first! All men have to wait, women and children first!”
Only a handful of lifejackets remained.
I grasped the little girl’s hand. “Come here, quickly!”
Then I swung her up into my arms. Signaling to the man distributing lifejackets, I sprinted to where passengers were loading.
“Captain Smith?”
“Yes, Roberts. I need a lifejacket.”
The deckhand glanced at the girl huddled in my arms and nodded.
“Here. But there’s not much room left.”
I took it and stepped away, setting the girl down on the deck. Then I looked her in the eyes.
“You have to put this jacket on, all right?”
No response.
“If you put this jacket on, I can put you in that boat, and you can get safely to your mother. Do you understand me?”
Her lost little eyes widened, but she nodded all the same.
A man’s infuriated bellowing exploded behind me.
“What do you mean, you’ve given out the last one?”
I stood and spun around.
A sallow-face man, his expression like a mad bull, had pinned the deckhand Roberts against the ship-rail and tried to send him over the side. I lunged and grabbed his elbow, pulling him away, but he wrenched himself out of my grip.
“I told you!” Roberts bellowed back, “That was the last jacket, and it should go to a lady, not to a sniveling drunkard!”
The sallow man charged, but I grabbed him and held him.
“I deserve that jacket, can’t you see? That woman was old, decrepit, useless! I’m a brilliant, productive man! Why should I be the one to die?”
I threw him back, onto the deck. He sprang to his feet. Then he saw what I was holding, and his eyes lit up like fireworks.
“Ah! Saving a jacket for yourself, were you, Captain?”
I sneered. “Never. This is hers.”
He looked down at the girl who peeked out from behind my legs.
“What good is it to her?” With a snarl, he leapt forward and grabbed it. I growled and held on, but my stomach felt sick. In his enraged eyes, I saw a reflection of myself. All the things I had said, the night before I boarded the Titanic, when Sarah had begged me to stay home; things for which Sarah could never forgive me…
If only I could save this girl…
I yanked the jacket back, pushed the man away, and knelt down to put it on the girl. “Ignore him, little one. Let me get this on you.”
Behind me, the man growled. Then he lunged.
Knocking me backward, he tore the jacket from the girl’s back, sending her flying to the deck. Before I pushed myself to my feet, he threw it over his own shoulders, and leapt into the lifeboat.
“We’re all on board!” he hollered. “Lower the boat!”
“Wait!” Murdoch called, bursting out of the wheelhouse, a bright white lifejacket in one arm. “Captain!”
I spun around. “Murdoch?”
“Captain, this is yours!”
He handed me the lifejacket. I just stood. The little girl ran over to me and clutched my leg.
“W-why?” I stammered. “Shouldn’t this be the passengers’?”
Murdoch looked down. “The men all agreed. You should be safe. Get back to your wife and daughter. Besides…” he faltered, “It was partially my fault. The lifeboats not being full, I mean.”
I looked around at my men, and they smiled resolutely back at me.
I couldn’t bear their loyalty. Not after I had been so heartless to the one woman in my life who deserved all of my loyalty and love. My men were putting me first, but I hadn’t put her before myself.
I had denied my responsibility as a man: to protect.
I glanced down at the little girl. My chance to make things right. Then I knelt, and slipped my jacket over her head.
My smile was tainted by tears.
I would go down with my ship. Redeemed.
But Sarah would never know.

 SHORT story. Hehe.
An interesting aside: I've been reading a lot of short stories over the past month - Hemingway, Hawthorne, Joyce, Maupassant, Crane, Melville, Poe - and I have come to realize how many works of astounding, influential literature are contained in the short story. The turn of phrase, the subtle descriptions, the hidden message under the action of the story. 

Short stories are brilliant authors trying to make a point. It's how artists argue.

I've also realized that I have a really difficult time sitting in my room alone for hours to write a novel - I'm a gregarious person, and there's nothing I can do about that. I can't even sit up there doing schoolwork for very long before I have to come downstairs and see people. So in recent months I've found my creativity languishing.

But I still love writing, and I still want to write. I just can't do it for large chunks of time without risking going into shock when I finally walk out of my room ("There are PEOPLE in my house!?!?!"). 

Maybe I should take up the short story. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a lot of "points" I want to make. I'm an arguing artist, for sure (thought, not a brilliant one). Maybe I can learn how to be under Hemingway's tutelage.

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